CENTRE WELLINGTON – Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen will remain Centre Wellington’s deputy mayor, for now, after council deferred a decision pending an integrity commissioner investigation.
VanLeeuwen had recently helped form the End the Lockdowns Caucus to speak out against the lockdowns because of the negative health and personal effects experienced by citizens.
Mayor Kelly Linton brought forward a motion at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting to remove him as deputy mayor.
Linton told GuelphToday last week he was bringing the motion forward as he needed to be on the same page with the deputy mayor.
The deputy mayor position is not an elected position in Centre Wellington. It is chosen by council.
“I am disappointed and unhappy that I feel the need to bring this motion to council this afternoon,” Linton said to the committee.
“I don’t question that it is necessary, but that doesn’t make it easier for me.”
He said he understands people are frustrated with lockdowns and are looking for someone to blame and with this group, they can blame the government.
“For me as a leader, the End of the Lockdown Caucus (sic) is a slap in the face,” Linton said. “It turns our leaders and public health officials into villains. It is politicizing a public health pandemic.”
He stressed this motion had nothing to do with penalizing someone for having a different opinion but consistent messaging is necessary in Centre Wellington leadership.
The committee also heard a delegation from Matt Woods who started a petition in support of keeping VanLeeuwen on as deputy mayor.
“He has a right to his opinion, he shouldn’t be punished for it and I have almost 1,000 people who feel the same,” Woods said, however he acknowledged earlier not all signatures were from Centre Wellington residents.
Councillor Bob Foster thanked Woods for the petition and agreed free speech is important but said this was more about the rule of law.
“Mayor you just described in your report a textbook case of a matter that needs to be investigated by the integrity commissioner,” Foster said, adding that VanLeeuwen deserves a hearing.
Foster suggested amending the motion to defer a decision until a full investigation by the integrity commissioner.
Councillor Kirk McElwain agreed with Foster and said he was disappointed to hear about this situation mainly because he didn’t agree with the group.
“There’s no rule against that, there’s a lot of people I don’t agree with,” McElwain said, adding he was more angry about the photo-op of the five founding members which required traveling, no masks or no social distancing.
Councillor Ian MacRae took issue with the group promoting people who defy emergency orders and how divisive things have become over this group.
“Look at what this situation is doing to our community, it divides,” MacRae said.
Councillor Neil Dunsmore supported the mayor’s motion and stressed his commitment to supporting public health while councillor Stephen Kitras also wanted a further investigation.
VanLeeuwen stressed he wanted to open a dialogue and was disappointed over what he called a symbolic gesture that tells people their voices don’t matter as much as public health.
Linton mentioned he had already spoken with the integrity commissioner who told him he didn’t see any Municipal Act violations by VanLeeuwen.
Foster countered they needed a report in writing.
“Your correspondence with the integrity commissioner on this matter was verbal and it needs to be in writing,” Foster said, then going on to officially make the amendment to defer a decision until an integrity commissioner investigation takes place.
After clearing up the procedure and numerous technical issues, the mayor called Foster’s amendment to a vote passing 4-3.
Foster, Kitras, MacRae and McElwain voted in favour. Linton and Dunsmore voted against with VanLeeuwen abstaining from voting which officially counts as against.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com